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Diversity Festival designed to bring everyone together

Events will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Peacock Plaza

By Cathy Tallyn

Staff writer

(Thursday, Oct. 14, 10:15 a.m.): Celebrate the many people that make up Rossmoor at the Diversity Festival on Wednesday, Oct. 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Peacock Plaza at Gateway.

There will be just about nonstop entertainment, along with dance, ethnic food, demonstrations, information booths, prizes and more at the free event designed to bring residents together to enjoy each other’s company.

“It’s going to be fun, fun, fun,” said Mary Taylor, who helped put together the event.

Members of various Rossmoor clubs that focus on cultural and ethnic heritage will provide entertainment and will man information tables to answer questions, distribute handouts or make a presentation.

“There’s going to be a bagpipe player representing the Caledonian Society, the Italian American Club will have a sing-along, several clubs will have instrumental selections, four clubs will have folk dancers …”

Ethnic food

Festival-goers may enjoy soul food along with Asian, Indian and Pakistani food that will be available from food trucks in the Gateway parking lot from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Attendees are welcome to dress in attire/costumes from their ethnic or cultural background. They can stop by Gateway any time and take a seat at the tables that will be set up in Peacock Plaza. Because of health considerations, the festival is outdoors.

Festival “passports” will be available at club tables. Each time a table is visited, the “passport” will be stamped. Once stamps are gotten from 12 tables, the “passport” may be put in the Passport Box near the podium/stage for prize drawings, which will be held intermittently throughout the day. Winners need to be present to win. Prizes will include gift cards, gift baskets and more.

While the focus is on fun, the festival is also intended to make people feel welcome and included.

Cross-section

Festival organizers are a cross section of residents with a range of social, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

They include members of the Diversity Consciousness Committee of the Interfaith Council (Veena Kashal, Mahmoud Ohadi, Judith Schumacher-Jennings and Taylor) and Rossmoor Advocates for Diversity (Aki Rasmussen, JoAnne Lawrence and Cecelia Wambach). The Activities Council lent its support, and Recreation Manager Kelly Berto also had a part and is the festival emcee.

Eight people spent the better part of this year on the project. Steering committee members enlisted participation by just about every cultural and ethnic club in Rossmoor as well as people of different genders and sexual orientation.

“It’s exciting to be involved,” said JoAnne Lawrence. “It was lots of work and lots of contact with clubs.”

The Hawaii State Club welcomed the opportunity to show that Hawaii and Hawaiians are more than the hula dance and leis.

A good thing

The festival is about diversity being something good.

“We all come from different backgrounds, but we’re all together,” said Kashal, a native of India. “We have to learn how to accept each other.”

Since her move here five years ago, she has for the most part felt comfortable and a part of the community.

A few years ago, however, when her son was riding his bike in Rossmoor, he was followed by a driver who apparently thought he didn’t belong. That led to comments of indignation in letters to the Rossmoor News.

“I know that most people are not like that,” Kashal said. “A lot of people are very ignorant and don’t know about other cultures.”

Another perspective

The festival is an introduction to and sharing of others’ ways of doing things.

“I’m expecting it to be a coming together of the community,” Rasmussen said.

Recent outrage about social injustice was an impetus.

Rasmussen is a Japanese-American who grew up in Los Angeles, lived in Walnut Creek for 37 years and moved to Rossmoor six years ago.

“I never felt racial strife until about five years ago.”

She was shopping for grapes at a Rossmoor Farmers Market when a man standing behind her started to make snide remarks. It escalated to profane language.

Verbal harassment

“He called me a f…ing bitch,” she said. “It felt racist. I looked at his face, and I’d never seen such ugliness.”

More recently, she felt outrage over the death of George Floyd, as did other residents who participated in peace vigils in Rossmoor.

Observations about Rossmoor may have started to change.

“The perception was that Rossmoor is white and conservative,” Rasmussen said.

Through activities such as the Diversity Festival, that image can start to change, she said.

“People might say, ‘Whoa, Rossmoor cares about this stuff.’ ”

Harmony Day

“Recreation was going to do a Harmony Day event, prepandemic,” said Recreation Manager Berto. Coronavirus didn’t actually kill the program; it evolved into the Diversity Festival. The hope is it will become an annual event.

“I feel like it’s been a labor of love. I know residents will enjoy it,” she said.

Rossmoor CEO Tim O’Keefe has similar thoughts.

“I’m very pleased that Rossmoor is holding its first Diversity Festival to recognize and celebrate the tremendous diversity we have in this community. … It is this incredible diversity that helps to make Rossmoor an interesting place to live and make new friends.

“The organizers have worked tirelessly for months to plan the festivities, and I have no doubt that attendees will be amazed at the creativity, beauty and diversity of the many ethnic and cultural clubs of Rossmoor.

“I encourage everyone to stop by Peacock Plaza on Oct. 20, if even only for a few minutes, to take in the sights, sounds and fabulous food and see how you might get involved in one or more of these great clubs.”

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